Looking for Alaska
First things first: if you’re not familiar with John Green, here are some of the reasons he is awesome:
- He writes great books for “young adults” that are not condescending. They are about important issues (often death), but they are never preachy.
- His books have won tons of awards, including the Edgar Award for best YA novel (for Paper Towns), the Corine Award (for Paper Towns), and the Michael L. Printz Award by the ALA (for Looking for Alaska).
- He and his brother, Hank, self-proclaimed nerds, are the “VlogBrothers.” The VlogBrothers encourage their fans (“nerdfighters”) to fight against “world suck” (What is “world suck,” you ask? Check out: “How to Be a Nerdfighter”).
- He uses his popularity and visibility for good. There are millions of nerdfighters, most of whom are teens, and he tries to help educate them on important issues. Every Tuesday, he posts a new video. This week’s is on raising the minimum wage:
- Last, but not least, he is the author of The Fault in Our Stars.
I went on and on about The Fault in Our Stars here, so I don’t need to do it again. Suffice it to say, I am a fan.
And that is why I was very excited when the trailer for the book’s movie adaptation got leaked last week, and, as a result, the trailer was officially released earlier than originally scheduled. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
Seeing the trailer reminded me that it had been a while since I’d had a John Green fix. Conveniently, as I mentioned here, my stepbrother gave me Looking for Alaska for Christmas, so I decided it was time to treat myself.
Looking for Alaska is Green’s first book, and he has admitted that it is “kinda” autobiographical. It is set at an Alabama boarding school called Culver Creek that is very similar to the boarding school Green attended, Indian Springs School.
The main character is Miles “Pudge” Halter, a nerdy Florida teen without many friends. He reads biographies to learn famous people’s last words (another similarity to Green)—like François Rabelais’: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
Pudge goes to Culver Creek in search of his own “Great Perhaps.” There, he quickly befriends Colonel and Alaska, two scholarship students that have “a shared interest in booze and mischief.” Colonel is his roommate, a five-foot-tall math prodigy who knows the capitals and populations of every country in the world. Alaska is a beautiful, prank-playing, fun-loving free spirit whose room is covered in stacks of books (her “Life Library”). Alaska is the life of the party . . . and incredibly self-destructive. Her favorite last words are Simón Bolívar’s, as quoted in Gabriel García Márquez’s book, The General in His Labyrinth: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” Pudge falls in love with her immediately.
The book is divided by and centers around the tragic events of one fateful night. The chapters in the first half of the book are headed by the number of days before the tragedy befalls them; the chapters in the second half of the book are headed by the number of days after the tragedy.
This is a book about life and death. It is about the beauty and the danger in believing as a teenager that you are invincible.
Rating: 3/5 🚬
Like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Looking for Alaska has been banned and challenged for its content (here are some examples). The kids in it smoke and drink and curse. They have ridiculously awkward sexual encounters. They skip school. They are moody and obnoxious. I.e., they act like actual, real-life teenagers.
Looking for Alaska isn’t as good as The Fault in Our Stars. But I would have loved it (and appreciated it) in high school. Reading it, I had fond memories of some pretty ridiculous high school days (shout-out to my Cat Pound girls, Heather, Jocelyn, and Lyndsey).
Some YA books are just as enjoyable for adults as they are for kids. But this is a YA book that is definitely written for teenagers. The themes are relatable to people of any age, but Green is presenting them especially for kids. For high-school readers, I give it a 4/5.
Who should read it: my nieces, Taylor and Caroline; people who want to remember how alternately amazing and awful high school was.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Player One: What Is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland (a 2010 CBC Massey Lectures project)
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction)